Saturday, February 25, 2017

the news.

When I first started studying in Durban, South Africa in 1997, our professor gave us an assignment: watch the news. And not just the English news, but also the news in languages we couldn't understand, Afrikaans and Zulu. (Durban is in Zulu province, and some of white population speaks Afrikaans as well as English. Yes, Zulu is the one with the clicks, but Xhosa has more. If you need to more, ask Trevor Noah...)

During Apartheid the news media was completely controlled by the government, and it was used as way to control the population.  News about the resistance to the racist minority rule was so strictly controlled that publishing an image of Nelson Mandela was harshly punished. Imprisoned for most of his adult life- for decades no one knew what the future President looked like, as the last photo of him was as a young man on trial. (I once was 3 feet from Madiba, God bless his memory forever.)

In 1997 there was freedom of the press and the country was actively working to re-dress the wrongs of its recent past.  However,  it wasn't always so clear cut.

Watch the news, our professor said, and see if you notice any differences. 

Which stories lead the hour? How much time is spent on each one? Which graphics, images or music are used, and what is the newscaster's emotional response or body language? Even without understand the words, you will learn a lot about how different groups of South Africans view their country. 

There are many versions of "the truth".

Yesterday I took my daughter shopping and out to eat in a more conservative, white, Republican part of our city. We sat in a crowded diner for her usual "chicken fingers and fries" and my bad coffee and worse salad. I noticed immediately that 1/2 the TVs were tuned to FoxNews. (Why oh why do we need to have TV's everywhere!?!)

Then I overheard the conversation between the two women in the booth behind us, which went something like:

"Well, I don't think Trump is polite or nice, but he is at least finally doing something about all this crime!"

I've been occasionally looking at the Fox News website to try and live outside my "bubble". (I think that whole concept of "liberal bubbles" is bull@#$% but that is another post that I haven't yet figured out how to write without cursing too much.)

Anyway, every few days I take a deep breath and I scroll through their top stories. And here is what I notice:

Polical stories are always first, and they are usually opinion pieces, not factual. As in, "Watch O'Reilly's take on how the liberal newsmedia is biased!"

The point of the view of the Administration is favored, pretty obviously. As in "The Trump team says...(and we agree!)"

Any articles about the Democratic Party (DNC) are usually about how they made a huge error or are in disagreement about something. As in "The DNC is again in a shambles over their future leadership!"

All the other top news is about an America (usually a white person) being hurt, injured, killed, maimed, lost or jailed (usually a black or brown person).

ALL THE OTHER STORIES are about crime. Scary, bloody, terrible crimes. No matter that they happened to that one lady that one time, they are TOP STORIES.  Sports, international affairs, science, the arts? ... nope, nope, nope. Just death and mayhem.

Cue the woman in the diner who says that despite his flaws at least the President is doing something about all this crime...

Even though the crime rate is the lowest in a generation or more. If you've been watching or reading Fox News, you would think that our country is overrun by brown-skinned criminals intent upon doing horrible, scary things to you and your family.

Yesterday the White House kept several reputatable news organizations out of a meeting with the press secretary. That has never happened before. Even under Nixon.

Yup, I just wrote a whole blog post comparing our news media to South African Apartheid and the Nixon Administration. I did not think I would be doing that a year ago.

Why are there TV's everywhere?!- To keep us distracted.
Why does Fox News highlight so much crime? - To keep us scared.
Why is the White House demonizing and locking out the press? - To keep us from hearing things from other points of view but theirs.

This is what I take away today:

Don't be distracted.
Don't be afraid.
Stay informed, and watch the news in other languages besides the one you know. 

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